NASA’s next manned spacecraft — its first new model in 40 years — is called the Orion, or “Apollo on steroids.” Presuming that it passes the various stages of unmanned flight tests, this may be the spacecraft that brings humans to Mars or to the asteroid belt for mining. To put it mildly, there are a lot of eggs in Orion’s basket, so much so that not even the government shutdown halted work on the craft. Even Universe Today dubbed 2014 “the Year of Orion.” Despite its importance, there are higher-priority matters, such as national security. Orion’s first exploration flight test, due to take place in September, has been pushed back to allow the U.S. Air Force to launch two Space Situational Awareness satellites.
While Cosmos may not have lived up to Fox’s ratings expectations, it was still a humbling primer on our vast, marvelous universe. Neil deGrasse Tyson played host as he explored our “cosmic address,” voyaging from our home planet, our solar system, our galaxy, out to the fringes of the observable universe. Never ones to be upstaged by some slick CGI and an imaginary spaceship, earlier this week NASA released a gallery of beautiful images showing off our wonderful cosmos.
Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey is a new incarnation of the classic and beloved 1980 science series hosted by the late Carl Sagan. The original version inspired many a youngster who has since gone on to a career in science, and hopefully Fox’s new version will do the same (assuming they don’t cancel it sometime in the next 15 minutes). The first episode kept things pretty basic, focusing on the vast scale of our universe, the story of persecuted Renaissance visionary Giordano Bruno, and Tyson’s own tale of his relationship with Sagan, who became a mentor of sorts to the noted astrophysicist and science advocate. Cosmos airs Sunday nights at 9/8c on Fox.
SpaceX seems to be taking the world—make that the universe—by storm. The private contractor hauls cargo to the ISS, and despite an initial launch glitch, it has begun taking communications satellites into orbit. The company is also working on manned flight capabilities, with the long-term goal to get people to Mars. There seems to be no aspect of space travel SpaceX isn’t involved in, and now it’s poised to launch missions for the U.S. military.
This week, Elon Musk told the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense that he’s ready to get in the running for Air Force contracts based on the strength of theFalcon rocket. “Frankly, if our rockets are good enough for NASA, why are they not good enough for the Air Force?” Musk says. Fair point, though NASA has different requirements for its contracts.
This past Sunday saw the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences giving sciencey fiction its just rewards by granting Gravity seven Oscars, including the technical line-up of editing, sound, visual effects and music, with Alfonso Cuarón taking the trophy for Best Director. Though 12 Years a Slave ended up winning Best Picture, it was still a huge victory for space thrillers, and the film’s successes earned a video congratulations from Expedition 38’s three-astronaut team on board the International Space Station, as seen above. That’s as high-up a thumbs up can possibly get, I’m assuming.
NASA’s Michael S. Hopkins starts off the cheers, pointing out that all three of them are pretty familiar with what it feels like to float around in zero gravity. He then wafts the mic over to JAXA’s Koichi Wakata and begins to flip around in the background. He explains they watched a copy of the film onboard the ISS and loved its depiction of space. Then NASA’s Richard A. Mastracchio gives the formal congrats to the stars and crew for the Academy’s recognition.
One of my favorite films, Rob Reiner’s Stand by Me is partly a cautionary tale about what happens when curiosity gets the better of someone, and is direct in its depiction of a seemingly innocent journey nearly ruined time and time again. Science fiction is full of these kinds of stories, where would-be pioneers meet their instant doom due to unforeseen circumstances, but science just keeps on trying to make all that shit happen. NASA‘s Next Big Plan is an unmanned mission to Europa, Jupiter’s most interesting moon in terms of Earthly similarities. It’ll be a while before the car is packed and gassed up though, so don’t go writing any alien conspiracy theories just yet.
For their fiscal year 2015 Budget Proposal, NASA plans to spend $17.5 billion in various ways, including putting more money into the Sunjammer Solar Sail energy source, climate change studies, and hopefully major developments in getting humans into deep space travels and hibernation. But they’re also setting aside $15 million for “pre-formulation work for a potential mission to Jupiter’s moon, Europa.” Elizabeth Robinson, NASA’s chief financial officer, said the potential mission would launch in the mid-2020s, which means this thing could either become a highly-promoted and well-embraced challenge, or it could get swept under the space rug when the next U.S. President enters the oval office.